Iowa Men's Basketball

Points in Transition: Iowa vs. Rutgers preview

Hawkeyes travel to face Scarlet Knights, seeking second straight road win

Iowa Hawkeyes forward Nicholas Baer (51) and forward Luka Garza (55) celebrate after Garza made a basket while being fouled at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes forward Nicholas Baer (51) and forward Luka Garza (55) celebrate after Garza made a basket while being fouled at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The Iowa men’s basketball team probably would’ve liked to have played Wednesday’s game against Rutgers on Saturday or Sunday, as getting back on the court so soon after playing well usually is preferred. Still, heading on the road to play another team in the bottom third of the conference is a better option than heading to East Lansing or West Lafayette.

For every conference game, we’ll look at key players, strengths and weaknesses for both teams and the key to winning for both sides. Here’s a breakdown of the matchup between Iowa and Rutgers, which tips off at 6 p.m. Wednesday on BTN:

Player to Watch

Iowa: Luka Garza, forward — This one is pretty simple: he’s one to watch to see if he can repeat or follow up that performance with something equal or better. Garza having the offensive and rebounding impact he did forced Illinois to not just shadow Tyler Cook inside, and helped the offense flow way smoother.

Rutgers: Corey Sanders, guard — Sanders’ speed and finishing ability make him the type of player Iowa has repeatedly struggled to contain. Starting guards Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss have not shown the lateral quickness to stop his adeptness at getting to the rim. He’s got the ability to dictate Iowa’s defense.

Strengths

Iowa: When Iowa has been at its best, a few things have been true.

There’s the well-covered ground: ball movement, activity on both ends, getting out in transition and controlling the boards. What’s helped those things work their best is when the lineup isn’t as in flux — when head coach Fran McCaffery ends up giving the bulk of the minutes to around eight or nine players.

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Thing is, McCaffery isn’t going to only play eight or nine guys — as he’s said on several occasions — but he does roll with a particular lineup within games when they’re having success. The Hawkeyes have and can shorten the rotation on their own, as happened against Illinois, when key players execute on several consecutive possessions. Situations are always going to dictate what McCaffery does, but he’s also not going to make a change just for change’s sake.

The most highly-used players (Jordan Bohannon, Tyler Cook, Nicholas Baer, Isaiah Moss, Maishe Dailey and Garza, in particular) showed against Illinois they can make things simpler in terms of substitutions by executing consistently.

Rutgers: Rutgers may be in a familiar spot in the Big Ten standings, but this is not the same old Rutgers team that has been a doormat throughout its time in the conference. It beat Seton Hall (ranked 28th on KenPom.com), played Florida State to the wire in a five-point loss and last week took Michigan State to overtime at Breslin Center before falling in the extra frame.

The Scarlet Knights aren’t going to challenge for the conference title, but the improvements they’ve made have been led on defense — where they’ve built a good resume statistically overall this season. Rutgers is efficient overall at 0.953 points per possession allowed, and force opponents into poor shots with regularity (45.3 percent effective field goal percentage overall).

They force turnovers at a solid rate — 21.8 percent overall and 20 percent in conference play — which ranks 40th nationally and third in the league. They play mostly man, and have the athleticism to do so.

Weaknesses

Iowa: Despite the strong second half against Illinois, the Iowa defense still has yet to prove it can play well with any level of consistency. McCaffery’s favorite phrase this year is, “we’ve played well at times, but we’ve also not played well at times.”

Fact is, Iowa is last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (76.2 points per game), 13th in defensive efficiency (1.163 points per possession allowed in conference play), 13th in effective field goal percentage allowed (55.8 percent), 12th in field goal percentage defense (44 percent) and 11th in steals (5.5 per game). These numbers aren’t an accident, and show that “at times,” is a lot more of the time than not.

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Rutgers is in the bottom third of the nation offensively and is last in the Big Ten in several offensive categories. The ease or difficulty with which the Scarlet Knights get looks and baskets on Wednesday could be very revealing about where Iowa stacks up defensively, and whether or not the second half against the Illini was an aberration.

Rutgers: As was just mentioned, as good as Rutgers has been this season on defense, the Scarlet Knights have been equally bad offensively overall.

Rutgers is not particularly efficient, ranking 277th in the nation at 0.987 ppp overall and last in the Big Ten at 0.849 ppp in just conference play. Roughly translated, that means the Scarlet Knights are roughly 20 points worse over the course of 100 possessions than the average D-I team. The national average ppp is 1.044. The average.

Rutgers also doesn’t get great looks at the basket. Overall, the Scarlet Knights’ effective field goal percentage is 43.4 percent (344th) and in conference play only that number tumbles to 37.8 percent, which is last in the Big Ten. That trend follows in 3-point shooting (last in 3s made and 3-point percentage), too.

Iowa wins if …

the Hawkeyes can keep the ball moving and the Rutgers defense chasing instead of predicting and can repeat its defensive performance from the second half against Illinois against one of the worst offensive teams in the country.

Rutgers wins if …

the Scarlet Knights can rely on Corey Sanders to attack weak spots in Iowa’s defense and can stop the Hawkeyes from getting in a rhythm offensively. Rutgers was able to do that against Michigan State, so nothing is a foregone conclusion for the Hawkeyes.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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